From now on zandtao is assuming that Stephen uses his approach to the 4 Noble Truths as part of his practice, as pointed out with earlier indications. When he reduces his practice to be of reason and intellect in order to achieve a secular Buddhism, zandtao does not agree but is not concerned because zandtaomed advice works up to an upadana-point - Stephen's upadana-point has to some extent been established; zandtao has no intention of sugar-coating upadana-points with secular claims. Zandtaomed advice and practice can work with other religions in a limited way without trying to obfuscate their upadana-points, and this way of working is a primary purpose of this z-quest.
Can studying this book help with zandtao's journey into the unknown because of Stephen’s secular purpose? Reductionism can produce clarification, but it can also create confusion through consequential inappropriate directions. Zandtao is now only trying to clear the path with this z-quest. Determining whether there is a secular Buddhism is Stephen’s purpose; the path has secular essences, it is only secular up to the upadana-point. How zandtaomed advice and practice could work with other religions woud be an individual matter based on discussion, but there is a secular element, perhaps even a secular path essence - that of practice. When we consider practice there is no belief - only understanding and experience; this is secular and can apply to all religions. Viewed in this way such a practice could also revolve around the 4NT as well as practice and advice around the MwB infrastructure.
Quest can also be a secular essence, quest as in journey into the unknown. Quest has no belief and therefore no upadana-points. Of course the very upadana-points could limit quest - could limit the journey into the unknown, but as a secular essence journey into the unknown is a commonality.
“An agnostic Buddhist would not regard the dharma as a source of “answers” to questions of where we came from, where we are going, what happens after death. He would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc.” [Stephen's BwB 16.21]. If answers to the avyakata were to be found in science, wouldn’t the Buddha have indicated this? Zandtao’s limited consideration of these questions led to disturbance. Whilst his knowledge of these sciences is limited zandtao feels that the advice of the avyakata is the avoidance of confusion – avoiding banging your head against a brick wall. It is important to know the limitations of science, something the Church of Reason does not know; maybe this is what the Buddha was indicating with the avyakata. The quest into the unknown, zandtao’s agnosticism, is concerned with advancing his understanding not banging his head against a brick wall, a wall that the Buddha has advised against. And of course there is so much to be learnt concerning practice and journey into the unknown.
“It ( – the dhamma of agnostic Buddhism) starts by facing up to the primacy of anguish, then proceeds to apply a set of practices to understand the human dilemma and work toward a resolution” [Stephen's BwB 16.22]. The Buddha was teaching of compassion and dukkha – the end of suffering for all (zandtao uses the term dukkha translated as suffering as opposed to Stephen’s use of the translation anguish). If the seeker’s practice is not concerned with dukkha, then the seeker needs to ask questions. Would all religions not accept the ending of dukkha as a secular fit for purpose?
What happens with religions and belief systems? These systems create division, and that division has in the past led to war. How much did the minor difference in belief systems between Catholic and Protestant in Ireland get used for war? Forces of patriarchy wanted war and used those differences, could those forces have done that if the people were not clinging to belief systems? Do such belief systems have to be held so hard? Can’t they be belief systems that are “softly held”? Are the differences that were manipulated and fought over worth the lives that were lost? In such circumstances, can those religions not focus on the compassion rather than the differences in belief systems? Whilst accepting upadana-points, can advising compassion first not be beneficial - compassion that is both Christian, Muslim or part of any religion? Softening the walls of division of belief systems has to be beneficial for all – ending suffering for all, whatever religion.
“An agnostic Buddhist eschews atheism as much as theism, and is as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning. For to deny either God or meaning is simply the antithesis of affirming them. Yet such an agnostic stance is not based on disinterest. It is founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know” [Stephen's BwB 16.23 ]. The path has to consider this, why do we quest into the unknown? It is not for the purpose of the pot of gold that is understanding God, but meaning is different. Eckhart’s descriptions of the two aspects of the mystery of consciousness clarifies this, the meaning is first to work towards understanding consciousness and the second is to evolve that consciousness.
It is not sufficient to say that it is based in the “passionate recognition that I do not know”, it is more that there is the path imperative that there is more to know – that is quest. Having faith in the path is key here because that faith recognises that the quest can produce results – learning. Does zandtao have faith that he can know God? No. Does he have faith that his quest into the unknown has meaning? Yes. Why does he have such a faith? It is faith in the path, faith that the quest will be meaningful. It is not for something specific such as knowing God but faith that his quest into the unknown will have meaning. At the same time there is the understanding that we are here to evolve consciousness. Why does he have such a faith? It comes from the path, it is the magnetism that consciousness wants to reconnect with itself. As the path quests into the unknown then there is learning, and this learning reinforces the faith that the path, the quest into the unknown, can learn. We are meant to learn, and as with avyakata not to know God.
Useful understanding based on Stephen’s questioning, yet zandtao suspects a clear distinction with Stephen’s own understanding. That does not matter, learning is what matters.
“Such deep agnosticism is an attitude toward life refined through ongoing mindful awareness” [Stephen's BwB 16.24], mindfulness produces the faith. Stephen quotes the anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor defining culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”” [Stephen's BwB 16.27], and then says “Since this particular culture originates in the awakening of Siddhartha Gautama and aims to cultivate a way of life conducive to such awakening, Buddhism could be described as “the culture of awakening”” [Stephen's BwB 16.27]. What is the relationship of the path to this culture of awakening? Zandtao cannot answer this because he is not fully awakened. He knows there is partial awakening starting with the Chiswick upheaval and developed during his seeking in retirement. As he increases his dedication to the path the greater the awakening. He lacks abidance because of his warts’n’all, logic would say that any defilement means there is not full awakening. His time is not 24/7 path, how much of that restriction is because of his age and because of ego? He does not live his life in a “state of being the 5 Dhamma comrades”, before he can consider the question of what is awakening that state has to be reached to see what is over the horizon – the unknown of full awakening. His path could be described as going towards the unknown of full awakening.
Is there a point in seeing Buddhism as culture of awakening? Zandtaomed advice cannot be described as a culture of awakening because of zandtao’s lack of full awakening. It is therefore useful to have somewhere to look where there is full awakening. Assuming the Buddha as the awakened one seems reasonable, therefore studying what the Buddha said about awakening can perhaps lead towards a greater experience of awakening – studying and experiencing are not the same. Will the experience from that study ever be full awakening? Where else could we find examples of awakened beings – Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Eckhart, HHDL? When we choose a teacher, like zandtao has chosen Buddhadasa, Teal, Nicola, Thay and occasionally Eckhart, in a sense we are making a decision that such teachers can lead us to some form of awakening.
Magga, described as the Noble 8-Fold Path, is part of this Buddhist culture of awakening, but are “gods, Maras and divinities” concerned with awakening? When we talk of a culture, we recognise that a culture is not monolithic with every aspect of such an awakening culture focussed on awakening. Things in Buddhism are “around awakening”. In terms of the threshold of autonomy zandtao recognises his own path, but is all that he does concerned with awakening? His faith in the path would tend to say yes. Is his wisdom sufficiently developed to be discerning in this way? Perhaps during meditation?
What does zandtaomed advice (mainly the Seeker Story but including the trilogy and viveka) give you?
It gives you a way of developing your own path. The more you begin to experience the understanding in that advice the more you will follow your path and maybe cross the threshold of autonomy for yourself. Within this advice zandtaomed expects that you will experience some forms of awakening, zandtaomed has faith in that. It is your own autonomy and its relationship with awakening that will guide you to further awakenings.
Do all seekers have to cross such a threshold of autonomy? Can zandtao say that the path requires autonomy for it to lead to awakening? To full awakening? He certainly feels that way. Does there have to be a threshold? That might well be personal to zandtao’s seeking. Will there be a point at which the autonomy of the seeker takes over? Yes. Essentially awakening is a personal experience on the seeker’s path, it comes from the path and autonomy. Whatever teachings and advice the seeker is studying, it is their own autonomy and their own mindful grappling with these studies that leads to awakening; this is why the same advice/teachings is not a roadmap to awakening, it is not the content of the advice/teachings that produces the awakening it is the autonomy and individual experience. This is the fun of being an elder, no matter how good any advice what matters is the autonomy and individual mindfulness grappling to develop experience and wisdom. Bill knew this for teaching, and of course it applies to the path as well; because zandtao is still seeking this basic teaching understanding is sometimes forgotten.
As autonomy is key to awakening, zandtao finds it hard to see how a monk following the discipline of an Abbot can find their own autonomy, and therefore feel awakenings. Monastic discipline does not appear to encourage autonomy. However there cannot be a blanket judgement, perhaps within the monastic discipline the Abbot establishes there is an essential thread of autonomy. Seekers need to develop autonomy, perhaps that can be experienced in a monastery. But for definite clarity monks have helped zandtao (zandtaomed and bill). The relationship between autonomy path and awakening is part of his journey, zandtao must ask the seeker to consider this relationship. Can autonomy be found in an institution - within institutionalism?
Zandtao has difficulty clearing away the path when working with an individual, for Stephen there appears far greater ambitions:- “The challenge now is to imagine and create a culture of awakening that both supports individual dharma practice and addresses the dilemmas of an agnostic and pluralist world” [Stephen's BwB 16.28]. Zandtao identifies the world as patriarchal and inimical to awakening, currently it would seem an impossible challenge. In the final part of his Seeker Story zandtaomed asks the seeker to become aware of the impacts of patriarchy on their personal development. Has Stephen done that if his tathata describes the world as agnostic and pluralist? Can there be a culture of awakening in a patriarchy?
From here Stephen begins to examine aspects of his own dharma practice, the z-quest is concerned with path autonomy and awakenings – and the questions raised App A. So zandtao will note this practice and raise occasional questions. Stephen begins with a chapter on anguish, and zandtao notes that any help in understanding dukkha is worthwhile – perhaps the seeker would want to study this it could add to their practice.
In the next chapter Stephen talks of anicca through considering death. Through mindfulness grappling deeply with:-
“Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do? [Stephen's BwB 20.3 ]
It is part of MwB to develop anicca (specifically stage 13 of zandtaomed’s practice), the value of this approach in understanding anicca comes from your own personal experience; zandtao has not as yet tried it but recognises the importance of being conscious of death.
Then Stephen looks at rebirth. “According to religious Buddhism we will be reborn in a form of life that accords with the ethical quality of actions committed in this or a previous life” [Stephen's BwB 22.2]. Stephen has an interesting notion of religious Buddhism that includes “RELIGIONS ARE UNITED not by belief in God but by belief in life after death” [Stephen's BwB 22.2]; if this z-quest becomes about Buddhist institutions or religion in general then this could well be considered.
“The Buddha accepted the idea of rebirth” [Stephen's BwB 22.3]. Stephen speaks of the Buddha talking of sotapanna, and in truth arahants and stream-entry is an area of Buddhism that implies rebirth; zandtao has not studied this, is confused by it, and notes that unless you are experiencing the “stream” it is a matter of belief. Zandtao understands that Buddhadasa accepts this stream-entry, and yet Buddhadasa decided that the Buddha did not accept rebirth as far as zandtao understands – again vagueness. Zandtao recalls (from somewhere) Buddhadasa describing the language of the Buddha. According to Buddhadasa the Buddha was a revolutionary questioning the established Hindu practice of his society, and again according to Buddhadasa (somewhere) to present his change he used the conceptual language of Hinduism. For Buddhadasa this use of conceptual language led to the import of Hinduism into Thai Buddhism, but as far as zandtao recalls Buddhadasa does not accept that the Buddha accepted rebirth.
For zandtao the matter is clear, he does not believe in anything. He has not experienced rebirth to his knowledge, and therefore rebirth is not part of what he knows. How does this impact on the rest of Buddhism? Zandtao accepts that rebirth falls into avyakata – of souls and after-life, and does not answer questions about it by ditthupadana and agnostic avoidance. He places the question onto the other foot, if there is no anatta how is there rebirth? But it is an intellectual discussion, a discussion of an idea or belief that is not part of zandtaomed even though it is part of Buddhist institutions.
Stephen chooses the agnostic as well:- “It may seem that there are two options: either to believe in rebirth or not. But there is a third alternative: to acknowledge, in all honesty, I do not know” [Stephen's BwB 22.14 ]. Stephen finishes his chapter with “Agnosticism is no excuse for indecision. If anything, it is a catalyst for action; for in shifting concern away from a future life and back to the present, it demands an ethics of empathy rather than a metaphysics of fear and hope” [Stephen's BwB 22.16]. Zandtao fully endorses the shift to the now, and this is where Eckhart’s 2nd aspect of consciousness comes in – wisdom as the evolution of consciousness. Through developing Prajna consciousness evolves, and that “survives death” because consciousness is. It also obviates any need for egoic survival because the survival is in the “evolving consciousness”.
But whilst zandtao subscribes to Eckhart’s 2nd aspect of the mystery of consciousness, there is a huge question – the one established at the beginning of this z-quest – is this metaphysics? Or an even bigger question for zandtao, does zandtao have to believe the mystery of consciousness? The answer to this seems to be yes. What is the quest into the unknown but an investigation into the mystery of consciousness. This is zandtao’s faith in the path, that faith draws him magnetically to the path – to consciousness, and that faith draws him to investigate the mystery of consciousness. And that investigation builds wisdom that evolves consciousness. It all fits but it is still a belief - how can it not be?, it is a belief aspect of faith. With the upadana-point zandtao has parted from Stephen’s secularism, and with his faith in the path – in consciousness – he is parting from Stephen’s metaphysics. Stephen’s metaphysics appears to be built on the avyakata, and that religious Buddhism tries to provide some answer; zandtao has determined that investigating the unanswered questions brings disturbance and he doesn’t.
But investigating consciousness brings joy, it is learning, it is the path. But consciousness is a mystery to be investigated, that is an assumption – faith. That is the basis of agnosticism – to learn about the unknown, only the unknown is consciousness; this makes Stephen’s science comment more relevant - see below. Through learning we evolve consciousness, is this self-evident? We are the unity of consciousness, we learn, we evolve that unity; that is the mystery of life. Metaphysics – squirming has ended, so it is an irrelevant question. Zandtao is not fitting into another’s strait-jacket. If consciousness with its 2 aspects as the mystery of life is metaphysics for Stephen, then zandtao questions his scythe.
Consciousness as the mystery of life is simply sunnata, and zandtao has already indicated that Stephen has let in sunnata as core. Consciousness is the core, evolving consciousness is the practice.
At the beginning of Ch2 zandtao spoke of Sheldrake’s 10 dogmas of science. At one stage as mandtao, zandtao was considering the spiritual path of questioning what is science – a sort of agnosticism of science – developing genuine scepticism. Sheldrake’s 10 questions indicate as much:-
Stephen said this. “It is odd that a practice concerned with anguish and the ending of anguish should be obliged to adopt ancient Indian metaphysical theories and thus accept as an article of faith that consciousness cannot be explained in terms of brain function. Dharma practice can never be in contradiction with science: not because it provides some mystical validation of scientific findings but because it simply is not concerned with either validating or invalidating them. Its concern lies entirely with the nature of existential experience” [Stephen's BwB 22.12]. Why has consciousness got to be explained in terms of brain function? (see Sheldrake #8) “Dharma practice can never be in contradiction with science” but doesn’t that contain an assumption – that science is truth. And from Stephen’s quote, is the study of the nature of existential experience the same as the study of what is in science - in the Church of Reason?
Does it also contain an assumption that science is all of truth? What a can of worms:-
“LIFE IS NEITHER meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning and its absence are given to life by language and imagination” [Stephen's BwB 24.2]. Stephen begins with one of his sweeping scythes that zandtao is increasingly growing to distrust; mostly there is agreement with his scything but there are significant areas that are swept away with the scythe. What zandtao has to watch is that he mostly likes the scything because Stephen is sweeping away BS. But the problem is his academia, in zandtao’s view Stephen does not apply the scythe to academia; look at the mental explosion because of his apparent acceptance of science dogma – non-Sheldrake.
Life and consciousness just are – as is the path. Following my path has deep meaning, equally having faith in the path has deep meaning. But what is that meaning? In other words following the path is the purpose in life, but when asked to explain that purpose the answer is a tautology – the purpose in life is to follow the path. Explain what following the path means and there is difficulty. Yet internally there is a deep commitment to follow the path; zandtao recommends 100% dedication to the path but in truth how do we manage complete 100%?
When Stephen describes humans as linguistic beings he is alluding to the apparent nonsensical language in the last paragraph. What is the purpose in life? To follow the path. This is what other forms of life do without any form of mindfulness. Humans require a language description, and for zandtao that description has always involved the path. Much of his work is concerned with giving that following meaning so that people can begin to follow their paths. Zandtao could think of it as path sampajanna or path embodiment – what is the path and what are the wise actions to follow that path? How do we learn what those wise actions are and what must we do to follow them?
Yet what is this path? So rather than the enigmatic scythe of being both meaningful and meaningless, zandtao comes up with an “equally meaningless” statement that humans dedicate themselves to following the path 100%, zandtao asks seekers to follow their paths yet he cannot give detail as to what the path is and how 100% abidance can be attained.
But it is not because we use language that this situation concerning meaning arises, it is because the language is restricted and is unable to explain what path or consciousness or sunnata are. And that is a very different position to the position Stephen is taking. His is being taken because he is avoiding metaphysics. With the proviso of avyakata zandtao embraces path, consciousness and sunnata; without trying to define them with a language that is not fit for purpose zandtao recommends following the path as being meaningful for a way of life.
Language is part of conditioning, and the path is beyond conditioning. For the Inuit there are “ten” descriptions of types of ice, and for the African below Kilimanjaro before the fridge ice was metaphysics. When we don’t know what consciousness is we don’t have a language for consciousness. As we seek and quest into that unknown, the language is created to explain – mostly by metaphor eg the sea and oneness or Unity. It is not that the unknown cannot be explored and made known to some extent, it is that we have not developed the language. But we have also not had the common experience where the language could be understood; the Inuit’s “ten” descriptions have meaning to them because of common experience.
When we follow our quest into the unknown there might not be common experience, and the seeker’s use of language that might be “accurate” cannot be understood because of the lack of common experience. What about sunnata? Or the Tao that discusses the emptiness that is full? Or the Heart sutra? Do they have meaning for the non-spiritual? For those who follow conditioning without the seeking that can start to take them beyond?
What cannot be done is limit the beyond because of the limitation of language and the limitation of common experience. Zandtao questions whether Stephen's grand scythes are thus limiting. Rather than saying life is neither meaningful or meaningless, would it be more accurate to say that life (as the path) has the greatest meaning but our language is not capable of describing that meaning? How much meaning is lost with Stephen’s “neither meaningful nor meaningless”?
This addresses one of the App A questions (9). Dhammajati has purpose that is the greatest meaning of the path, when we consider the language we use that purpose becomes lessened because there is not the language for this purpose. Dhammajati effectively appears to become diminished because of the lack of language. But the experience of dhammajati need not be diminished because it can simply be the dhammajati experience. Focus on the experience – be convinced of the experience. Describe it. Cannot, don’t have the language. Has the dhammajati experience changed because of the limitations of language? No. Has the ability to explain dhammajati been limited by language? Yes. Has the understanding been limited? Yes. Has dhammajati been limited? No. This is the dilemma of language in spirituality, the language does not have the ability to measure the experience itself. But because spirituality is so important we still try.
This raises an issue concerning questioning – the quest for the unknown, it is concerned again with ditthupadana. Much of Buddhism is concerned with personal development through meditation such as MwB and through advice such as 4NT; this personal development comes from releasing attachment to various egos, one of which is ditthupadana. Zandtaomed’s approach recognises that although his advice does not contradict other religious belief systems the very fact that there is belief (ditthupadana) prevents a completely liberated development. In Christianity one belief is that Jesus Christ is the son of God. If our quest into the unknown contradicts something that Jesus Christ said we have a conflict of “religions” because of ditthupadana. There is not complete liberation.
This also applies to Buddhism where belief can prevent a completely liberated development. If we were helped by members of the Forest Sangha and we then have a disagreement with Ajaan Chah over rebirth for example, are we free to be completely liberated?
At the same time in Buddhism if we hold to particular views then are we free to quest into the unknown if there is conflict with those views? What if a desire to present a secular Buddhism conflicted with a quest into Nature and Dhammajati? Would Stephen be able to ask the questions about Dhammajati that zandtao asked? Maybe he disagrees – no problem, but if his agenda prevents the asking then there is not the potential for complete liberation. It is not for zandtao to decide whether Stephen’s agenda causes compromise with complete liberation but it is a concern.
“And we can no more step out of language and imagination than we can step out of our bodies.” But we can “go beyond” – we can transcend – another question (App A 15). How? GPS? Where does this ability to transcend come from? Autonomy.
Let zandtao speak of his own transcendent moments. Can there be transcendence 24/7? Presumably, but it has not happened for zandtao. But he can talk of transcendent moments – moments of clarity – moments when he has gone beyond conditioning. Now this mostly happens when writing. The study takes him to a point of confusion, it feels as if there is a block in his head. Different aspects of the study come together and then stop. They come together and don’t make sense. And there is mindful grappling - often there is clarity. There were conditioned thoughts coming together perhaps even in conflict and it all seems blocked, and then there is clarity - he has transcended to clarity. Bliss is too grand a description, and it is transitory – but it is there. Then there is the need for sankhara-khandha to put meat on the bones, and the clarity becomes words on the page. The conditioned thoughts have come together, there is a block and then transcendence to clarity and wisdom.
In the Chiswick loft this transcendence was more “bells and banjoes”. There was the office cubicle, the tedious commute, then to the loft, there was some stillness, and then transcendence leading to writing. At that time the block was a young life of conditioning, and somehow what nascent mindfulness was there reached through the haze, the haze that was the confusion of conditioning, finding the core path that was showing itself as the Muse.
When he wrote Kirramura, there was a transcendent writing process. It was the Summer before bill left for Africa, a summative time in his life. And Kirramura came that Summer, a routine for writing each night. He would lie down prepared to write and wait. Presence would come – what he called the guys, the air would appear to vibrate, and he would feel his body pushed back in the bed. Feeling the presence he began writing. There was a transcendence in which he went beyond the conditioning of daily life as the presence came, once the presence had come he accepted the state then the writing of daily life came.
For bill when he was not meditating a meditation state would occasionally come – similar to the Kirramura guys. Such a state was joyous but rare and erratic as bill had no practice, such states were more frequent when younger nearer the Chiswick upheaval.
In meditation there is a formalised transcendence in the 4th tetrad - his practice. As he leaves behind the egos of the vihara, summatively in the 12th stage after zandtao lets go of kilesa, upadanas and attachment to the 5 khandhas, there is a formalised transcendence as the released consciousness is used by faith to reconnect with the path and see clearly. It is a formalised process and zandtao is unwilling to describe it as transcendence each time, is it transcendence sometimes and imitation others? There has to be a vague positive on this one because of the formalised routine.
Where there has been transcendence zandtao has gone beyond conditioning but there was no stepping out of his body, as for language and imagination they are part of the world of conditioning and for those moments they were left behind – and if we tried to bring language and any sankhara-constructs the moment would have gone. Zandtao is unwilling to comment on the descriptions of others but zandtao’s transcendence is concerned with leaving conditioning not the body.
At the point of transcendence there is no conditioning, all the studies don’t exist, all the advice and teachings don’t exist, it is concerned with the autonomy to transcend and the wisdom beyond conditioning that arises. As soon as there is language to describe the event or explain the wisdom, transcendence has gone. When zandtao is writing and conditioning comes together in conflict there can be transcendence, but the writing that follows is not in a state of transcendence. The transcendent wisdom that arises when the conflict takes zandtao beyond conditioning does not continue into the writing because writing is an act of sankhara-khandha. The writing occurs on the border with lokuttara moving in and out as the need for wisdom arises.
This writing transcendence might be better understood as Wai Zandtao scifi. As with Kirramura the writing started with the Muse (presence – the guys). But when the actual writing was happening, he was in flow but not transcendent. If the flow stopped – needing the next phase in the storyline, there was again contact with the Muse. If he wrote for an hour there might be 3 or 4 transcendent moments as the storyline was refreshed and the flow of writing restarted. But when creativity is on the border with lokuttara, time flies with the concentration and the lokuttara border in a sense feels fluid. Maybe in full flow where he was not focussing on the writing there was more time in lokuttara, but the more writing he does the more he focusses on the skills of writing – a sankhara- khandha process. Be clear, the actual writing is a process of sankhara-khandha – except for those significant transcendent moments, moments beyond conditioning – moments of flow? Moments with the Muse?
These transcendent moments as zandtao has reconnected with the path have dominated zandtao’s life (as zandtao, zandtaomed and bill), but very clearly zandtao has not lived his life in lokuttara. Would that he could? He hopes others can. When the Buddha was talking he was using kaya-khandha and sankhara-khandha, but was he in lokuttara? Can that happen? Questions zandtao cannot answer but can investigate – how much are they avyakata for zandtao?
“THE PROBLEM IS not that we lack resolve, but that it so often turns out to be misplaced” [Stephen's BwB 24.5]. Here we have another statement that bears investigating. What is it in us that does not lack resolve? At the same time why can it turn out to be misplaced?
Is there not apathy? How many people resolve to follow their spiritual path and act on it - sampajanna? Zandtao accepts that we all have resolve to follow the spiritual path because the path’s nature is to find itself; the more you reconnect with the path the more resolve you have to keep reconnecting, the path and resolve reinforce each other. So why don’t we all follow our spiritual paths? Because we are in conditioning and we have attachments that destroy the resolve. Many are apathetic about following the path not because they don’t have resolve but that the resolve and attachments cancel each other out. In other words attachments block the path. Or worse, the egoic attachments are stronger leading to misplaced resolve eg wealth and fame.
“In a changing, ambiguous world is anything worthy of total commitment?” [Stephen's BwB 24.6]. If you have a genuine belief in Allah or God, then that requires total commitment; that is worthy. This is important for zandtaomed because if his advice is to have meaning then he accepts that the belief that is beyond the upadana-point is total. But what does a total commitment to a belief in God or Allah mean for personal development? To be good? To be moral? To defend your faith? The essence of zandtaomed’s advice is siladhamma – good and moral so that could be of help. Zandtaomed accepts the upadana-point, will not cross that point and ask the person to question their religion so there is no need for the individual to defend their faith against the advice zandtaomed gives. And zandtaomed accepts that his advice might already be contained within the religious teachings but if his advice or approach can help why not try? Remember, because of the upadana-point there is no conflict; any way to help us be good and moral is beneficial.
Contrary to zandtaomed and his acceptance of an upadana-point zandtao’s quest takes him into the unknown and therefore questions institutionalism and their leaders. His questioning is not concerned with avyakata nor with asking different religions about what avyakata means to them, but what are the leaders doing for the betterment of humanity? If the spiritual leaders (whatever religion) are following their path, then they have reached a level of awareness, a level of sampajanna - wise and loving embodiment. What are the actions those leaders are doing to end the suffering of humanity? For Buddhism the emphasis is on personal development and it appears the institutional leaders avoid the social conflict with a patriarchal system that causes suffering. Is that true for other spiritual leaders? Whatever method the religion chooses for personal development, do leaders, once they have developed, work to end suffering? Do they avoid conflict with the patriarchy? Should those leaders avoid such conflict?
“Dharma practice starts not with belief in a transcendent reality but through embracing the anguish experienced in an uncertain world” [Stephen's BwB 24.6]. Dhamma practice does start with embracing dukkha in an uncertain world, and through MwB (or through the 4NT) seeks to end dukkha. But where does dukkha come from but causes and conditions that we initially experience in our upbringing? And we seek awakening from this conditionality by going beyond conditioning, not transcending reality but transcending conditioning – going beyond conditioning. This is not a belief in a transcendent reality just the experience of the glimpsed wisdom that exists in lokuttara. The practice also embraces the experience of going beyond conditioning – lokuttara. In an uncertain world we don’t just hold to the dukkha that is readily recognised, but we quest into the unknown accepting the transcendent that comes from going beyond conditioning.
Now that the squirming has ended, Stephen’s own questioning is proving useful for zandtao’s quest; Stephen’s questioning produces clarity for zandtao, gratitude. For resolve Stephen claims it is about language. Can we go beyond conditioning, beyond language? Can we only experience within language? “A purpose may be no more than a set of images and words, but we can still be totally committed to it. Such resolve entails aspiration, appreciation, and conviction: I aspire to awaken, I appreciate its value, and I am convinced it is possible” [Stephen's BwB 24.7]. Stephen defines a purpose using language, but these words only have meaning with regards to awakening – they are about awakening as a purpose. Do we then understand that awakening only has meaning in the world of conditioning because of this language and that purpose is defined within conditioning? In the first discourse, was the Buddha discussing awakening as part of dukkha or were the 4 NT describing how an awareness of dukkha and cessation of dukkha can take the seeker beyond suffering – beyond conditioning? Beyond language? In other words, is awakening beyond dukkha and beyond conditioning? Is that awakening another reality in another body or is it quite simply here and now and that transcendence is simply beyond conditioning in the here and now?
Maybe there are institutional descriptions of a mystical reality, maybe there are institutional transcendental realities but that does not mean that there isn’t awakening as transcending dukkha – going beyond conditioning. This does not have to place awakening as some distant mysticism but it can place awakening as transcendent here and now.
Do we have to believe in this transcending? No. It arrives as glimpses through our autonomy transcending dukkha – autonomy going beyond conditioning. Awakening is a transcendental experience but it is not concerned with alternate realities; it is here and now.
“ANGUISH EMERGES FROM craving for life to be other than it is” [Stephen's BwB 24.9 ]. It can be dukkha to want a mystical world of Stephen Strange or maybe dukkha if we want a secular world of Stephen Batchelor. In the quest for the unknown the only wanting is the search for knowledge, a search that comes with no attachments (no ditthupadana), no preconceived notions. In our quest we meet new knowledge, accept that knowledge as new, and don’t frame it with mysticism or secularisation. To be fair zandtao’s quest into the here and now tends towards Stephen’s secularism, but framing with secularity is not a mindful judgement-free awareness. The path cannot be framed in this way no matter how much we want to avoid sankhara’s mystical proliferations.
But then does zandtao also frame his own quest so that although his intentions are mindful his practice might be framing with ditthi? Zandtao hopes not but does not preclude the possibility.
At this point it is worth a review of where zandtao stands with Stephen. The question of secular Buddhism has been answered for how zandtaomed practice can be used with other religions based on the upadana-point; by accepting that another religion will have an upadana-point there is no conflict.
But there has not been a discussed clarification of Stephen’s scythe of practice and metaphysics. For zandtao there is the practice of MwB, the metaphysics of avyakata, and an area of questioning summed up by App A
. In this questioning middle ground there is the quest for the unknown, the path and from the first discourse “As long as my knowing and seeing how things are”. For zandtao it is important to become conscious of this middle ground. From the first discourse we have awakening through the practice of 4NT, compare that with awakening through MwB (perfecting the vihara of the 3-memes). Then the discourse talks of “knowing and seeing how things are” as part of the awakening, that can be seen as awakening through wisdom and tathata. Where does the wisdom and tathata come from? By following the path and questing into the unknown. Zandtao sees this as awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata, and considers this as being faithful to the first discourse.
From the 1st discourse we could have a dichotomy of awakening and the metaphysics of avyakata. This is different from Stephen because it includes awakening through practice and “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata”. Stephen indicates that there are glimpses that arise from the practice, and that these glimpses show the way to awakening. As they arise from the practice Stephen appears to have subsumed these two awakenings as awakening through practice. Zandtao however feels it is important to be conscious of the path described here as “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata”. It is not sufficient to have glimpses and continue with the practice, it is important to realise that the purpose is awakening and becoming conscious of these glimpses is becoming conscious of awakening ie “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata”. Zandtao chooses to make this middle category specific. Stephen has practice and metaphysics, zandtao looks at zandtaomed awakening through practice, “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata”, and the metaphysics of avyakata.
In the 3-memes:-
zandtaomed’s practice includes preparing the best vihara and having faith in the path. Preparing the best vihara allows for awakening through practice. Having faith in the path allows for “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata” leaving unanswered the questions of avyakata. Zandtaomed’s advice for awakening through practice is to prepare the best vihara through MwB and the Seeker Story. By having faith in the path zandtaomed advises continuing with the practice of MwB but working towards “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata”.
With secular Buddhism the upadana-point needs investigating. For zandtao awakening through practice is secular as it does not conflict with the upadana-point. Zandtao accepts the avyakata, does not engage with them, and because of the disturbance they have caused him does not recommend engagement with the avyakata. But how does “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata” fit in with the secular? Yet at the same time how does awakening fit in with the secular? Sure it is fine with secular Buddhism, but for other religions does awakening conflict and go beyond the upadana-point? Can other religions accept awakening? Zandtao reached his approach through recognising that siladhamma would be acceptable with all religions – being good and moral, but awakening is a different question.
Here zandtao is describing two steps to awakening – awakening through practice and awakening through being conscious. Doing the practice does not conflict, but awakening, especially awakening through being conscious, could threaten the upadana-point. If we don’t look at why awakening happens then the practice is secular avoiding conflict by not being aware of awakening. Zandtao cannot accept this sort of deception. Does awakening conflict with the upadana-point? Does it conflict with the belief system? Any seeker (of any religion) following the practice is likely to experience glimpses of awakening, how are these glimpses explained? If these glimpses are ignored because of potential conflict, are we not ignoring the very purpose of life – awakening? On the other hand, could these glimpses be covered by the dogma of other religions such as miracles? To find an appropriate answer there would have to be some form of engagement with seekers from other religions.
But for zandtao these glimpses must not be fudged. An important lack in the way society perceives the path is the way that society represses such glimpses. How many people receive firstgrace but because of the way society rejects and mocks do not embrace the path indicated by first grace? Recognising awakening is key to zandtao. Zandtaomed’s advice can fit into other religions up to the upadana-point but if glimpses of awakening are fudged and not seen as important then the practice is limited. The practice can bring siladhamma but if the greatest joy of awakening is fudged how much is lost?
What if zandtaomed advice is "sold" to seekers of another religion as giving rise to siladhamma - a common denominator of religious practice. Yet in the advice to these seekers they are told that awakening through the practice of MwB can occur through glimpses, that these glimpses are essential to zandtaomed's path, but that the seeker must consider these glimpses as to whether they conflict with the upadana-point of their own religion. This is an unsatisfactory but necessary compromise. How is awakening perceived in other religions because partial awakening must happen?
This review vindicates the direction that the z-quest has taken - “awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata” – developing consciousness of the path.